First counts indicate Sinn Fein gains
First counts indicate Sinn Fein gains

In the first results in the Assembly election, Sinn Fein are making gains or holding their own as the long delayed numbers start to come in.

In counts which followed the lengthy vote verification process this afternoon, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy topped the poll in Newry and Armagh. He could help to once again sareguard three seats for the party in the constituency. The other three seats are set to again be shared out between the SDLP, UUP and DUP.

A significant development in Upper Bann sees Sinn Fein almost certain to secure a second seat, with the party’s Johnny McGibbon outpolling the SDLP’s Dolores Kelly. The DUP has failed to capitalise on a decline in the UUP vote, but will return both of its candidates. A poor showing by the TUV means the SDLP will battle the UUP to hold onto their seat in this constituency.

Overall, rthe Ulster Unionist party (UUP) faces being pushed into fourth place in the Stormont Assembly, marking more than a decade of electoral decline.

The hapless leadership of Tom Elliott has failed to unite his bickering party, which is in danger of losing one of its two ministries in the power-sharing government, if it falls to fourth place behind the SDLP

But support for the two main parties -- Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) -- remains very strong, with an ever increasing distance between them and their weaker opponents, the nationalist SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party respectively.

The collapse of the UUP was most pronounced in its former bastion of North Down, the most prosperous constituency in the Six Counties. The UUP’s two candidates, the sitting assembly member Leslie Cree and former police officer Colin Breen, won only 10% of first preference votes and neither may be elected.

Although counting began only on Friday afternoon and will continue through Saturday evening, the early tallies and results indicate that the DUP will again emerge as the single biggest party. This will secure the post of first minister for the DUP leader, Peter Robinson, again.

The DUP appeared to have also profited from raising fears among unionist voters that Sinn Fein would become the main party and make Martin McGuinness first minister, as well as the record low turnout.

Curiously, a large batch of votes in the Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency were discovered to have become soaking wet. Count staff were assigned to dry out the votes using hand-held blow dryers.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who is now elected in the 26 Counties, says it felt “rather strange” to be no longer standing in the west Belfast constituency which he once represented.

Adams resigned his Westminster seat in the electoral area earlier this year after previously giving up his West Belfast seat in the Stormont Assembly.

He said:”I spent the last few days in west Belfast and quite a number of people, particularly elderly people, told me that this was the first election that they had ever voted in that my name was not on the ballot card so that was highly emotional moment.

He joked that party candidate Fra McCann “broke down a number of times with the poignancy.”

Seven count centres were reporting problems with the verification process, with a further delay blamed on the fact that there were three ballot papers for each voter.

The following is a summary of seats declared so far, with the percentage of vote:

SF 2 34.34%
DUP 0 19.8%
UUP 1 21.54%
SDLP 1 17.77%
TUV 0 2.09%
AP 0 3.94%
Others 0 0.52%

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